Monologues charting the UK gay experience. As the Blitz hits London, Fredrick is grateful that he survived in a very unlikely place of refuge.
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I require a drink. That - that is for certain.
I'll be seen here, though. Someone'll bring up my name and say,
"Isn't that Andrew's boy standing over there?"
You'd think this was a bush village.
Bush village, that way.
Soho, Bloomsbury, Piccadilly Circus - full of clowns.
Everything else is either slum or pompous, and little in between.
I know what I'm saying.
I've run the length of this city, so I know it all - all of it.
The East End too.
And I don't just mean cruising up and down Whitechapel High Street
like those old queens do, no. I mean down by the docks.
Workers from around the world with big load-lifting arms.
Oh, my God...
If their overalls could speak,
they'd shame up the whole of polite society.
There's the Chinese, and people from the West Indies, and more.
And the locals, of course.
Mmm. Hands as rough as Empire.
But down over there you're never far away from an alleyway,
and a "poof roaching".
Yes, that's what they call them - "poof roachers".
The men who might just as well leave you for dead afterwards.
That's after they've taken their pleasure.
The beating come, and your money go.
Threats to involve the law
if they believe you've got a reputation worth looking out for.
No, the East End is not for me, mm-mm.
What is for me is much harder to fathom.
This mess of dance halls, theatres, smoke-filled bars
and endless gossip that draws me in,
holds me close.
This bush village.
Three years ago - almost to the day when I first come here -
Southampton docks was where I first arrived, all sea-legged and smiley.
I thought I knew it all. I thought I knew all there was to know about
the motherland, and daffodils, and the poets from the Great War.
I thought I knew what to expect.
My daddy told me about the way
cold here creeps into your fingers and toes until your bones weep.
He talked me to death about the English cricket teams.
He packed me a bat and some kneepads and told me, "Off you go."
"If you can't be a sportsman like me,
"best go get yourself a proper degree.
"Come back with a profession.
"Make yourself into a lawyer, or doctor,
"and don't bring no shame on we."
And that was that.
I was free.
I was almost 22 and unmarried, no profession,
but more than good enough grades to get me into law school.
But I didn't want law school over there,
and I didn't really want it here either.
What I wanted, what I still want...
it's much harder to fathom.
But it doesn't look like a wife,
or a briefcase.
1938, yes, and what a time to arrive.
I had the spring and summer to myself.
I saw Cornwall, Wales, Scotland, countryside,
all kinds of people I didn't understand.
I saw poor white people for the first time.
A white man trundling along with a broom sweeping the streets.
White men begging.
Old white men with sunken eyes,
still lost from a war they'd fought two decades before.
I was confused.
My father never tell me about all that.
In Wales, I became a valet for a gentleman.
Oh, his poor wife.
If she ever knew the things we did behind her back.
My daddy's kneepads come in handy, I tell you.
But Wales was not for long.
London was my calling.
When I come back here, I made a few shillings as an artist's model.
Standing naked and still while the city ran around me,
painting me all different shades of wrong.
At some point, though, I stopped looking at the finished work
when the artist called me round to the other side of the easel.
Sometimes it's best to keep your eyes closed
while keeping your eyes open.
I started moving with the bohemians in Bloomsbury.
They were all painters and writers and rabble-rousers and hangers-on,
and I was adopted into their group.
I don't remember all their names,
but their bedposts I can describe in great detail.
Four-posters, some of them,
or sometimes a chaise longue in the middle of a studio.
Tiny lickle rooms with laughing floorboards.
We'd have late nights drinking at the bottle parties, those places
- places like the Shim Sham -
where you had someone other than your shadow to dance with.
You could press another man to you, hold him close,
feel him stiffen against your hips,
and then... release.
You had to glide with the music, you see.
That's unless someone at the bar had called for the police,
in which case when you heard the footsteps raining down,
you took the hand of the nearest lady.
It was a fluid movement.
Then there were the soirees,
and what they called dalliances between three - or more - of us.
And it was just then,
just as I was going to think about my studies, in amongst all of them,
in the middle of the room, there he is.
As sweet and as dizzy-making as an entire bottle of Wray Nephew rum.
He's over twice my age on paper,
but there is that something in my blood that draws the sweet
and complicated to me.
He has this wicked grin,
a posterior like one of those marble statues
I used to go visit at the British Museum.
Thighs you'd want to hold on to for years.
He painted me into his life,
he carried me into his studio,
and we did not leave it for a month.
Oh, and then.
I remember seeing myself
in one of his watercolours on a wall in a gallery in Belgravia,
and I couldn't help thinking to myself,
"Why he paint me so dark, eh?"
I remember standing there with my hand up to the wall,
and my arm, and contrasting it.
He had me down just right.
He had me down so right he could paint me without me being there,
and after a while I was not there so much.
Some part of me will always remain on that wall, I imagine.
In a gold leaf frame.
The other part of me needs to move on.
Could never really stick itself to a white canvas.
I don't want to waste my youth stuck to the wall of his imagination.
He, though, he'd rather keep me there.
We write to each other still,
making promises to meet that are rarely kept.
I distract myself with as much as I can, with the theatre.
I've been tending to the theatre.
My personal back garden, even though it's one bum after another,
one bum after another.
Even though all the places for inverts like me
are disappearing one by one
there is still so much sweet for all that bitter.
Mm. This beer is far too weak for my taste, but it will do the trick.
It's one for the road, and it tastes like tarmac too.
Monday, things must change.
My free paper bun,
but I still have tomorrow to dance.
RUMBLING PLASTER FALLS
I have Dodging A Divorcee in my head and I can't shake it out.
I wish I could carry that song with me everywhere I go.
Press it against my ears.
If only. It's a foxtrot.
No foxtrot now, but they're playing ragtime in the ballrooms.
All those West Indians giving the crowd what they want.
Sweating, smiling, shuffling Colonial boys.
It's all a part of the game of belonging, and not belonging.
When I first come over here, the landlady was full of questions.
"Why are your palms a lighter hue?"
She'd turn them over at the table, frowning in puzzlement.
I let it wash over me like the other questions.
"Where do you learn to speak such good English then?"
And the like. Oh, she was full of them.
I used to think it was a working-class obsession -
my hair, my skin, the colour of my hands,
all those comments from the East End boys.
But I'm under no illusions now.
No, the more refined have their ways.
I tell them I'm going to become a lawyer, and their eyebrows arch.
I talk to them about music, and the conversation moves to jiving,
swing and ragtime.
All that time I spent revelling the attention of the Bloomsbury crowd,
the freedom I felt was an illusion.
I know that now.
Where I was born, you have to be as light as cornmeal to succeed,
unless you knew how to entertain.
Over here it's more complicated.
And endless game of where you're schooled and who you know.
Oh, they never slam the door in your face, the upper classes here, no.
They make you hold the handle of the door,
and convince you that you don't want to come in after all.
But all of that is changing with this blasted war.
Tonight I was good enough for the Cafe de Paris
because there was no-one else left in Soho.
The grand Cafe de Paris is where you can dance now,
where I can dance now they're no longer concerned with my appearance.
They started opening up their clientele - that's what they said.
It's funny how some places change their tune, eh?
They call it the safest spot in town.
Deep underground with a full swing band, a West Indian band at that.
A whole heap of brass and brown skins - who'd have thought that, eh?
I was going tonight, to the Cafe de Paris.
To see Snakehips, the King of Swing,
the band leader at the helm of it all.
He has a twinkle in his eye, this hypnotising movement at the loins
that make a boy like me salivate.
He was like that from day one, Snakehips,
before he plucked himself out from among the riffraff
to make it into the big halls.
They all talk about him, "Snakehips."
Even the Thames seems to do a little dancing dip like he does
once the river hits this side of town.
But all that he do isn't real music - it's all showmanship.
And I'm not complaining. The one entertains, the other sustains.
And it's not like I don't like the swing,
the way it makes your body bend, but that is the real difference
between the bottle parties and the Cafe de Paris.
It's not just who gets past the doors, but what's behind them.
I could've been hit by that bomb tonight.
I should be dead.
I didn't go there tonight. I went... I went to the theatre.
That's what I call it, the lavatories around Piccadilly
where men who speak my language like to entertain each other.
The real West End theatres are all closed now.
Soon after the bombs started coming, they were forced to,
but the Cafe de Paris was open for business.
Too deep underground for the Germans to hit it.
I was meant to go, but I couldn't bring myself
to darken the doors of a place that would have refused me entry
just a year ago. I'm too proud for that.
Nobody ever tell me in words, but I feel it in the tailoring of my skin.
We're proud, or weak-hearted. The result is the same.
I wasn't good enough to enter then
unless I was one of the entertainers.
I was on my way
and then this urge came upon me like a river,
and my feet meandered away from the entrance of the club
and straight into the theatre inside the Regent Palace Hotel.
It was a fluid movement.
The porters often turn a blind eye
so long as we don't cause a disturbance.
I was stood at the urinals in the semi dark,
with a middle-aged man's hands inside my flies,
and he had a strong grip too.
Halfway through the sirens went off
and we had to run for shelter right away.
All of us, except for the chancers, as always.
The chance of a few minutes to find a hand, or mouth, or more,
in the dark is too good to pass by.
I escaped into the streets
and I caught a glint in the eye of a warden,
and I followed him down a side passage.
He tasted of the suburbs, like he had a Hammersmith wife
waiting for him at the back of his throat.
There's that something in my blood that draws the married man to me
with all his sweetness and complications.
It's not a bad thing. I have a sweet tooth.
Oh, Snakehips is in my head still. Boy, he could move.
I heard the whistle of it landing
and I could feel the ground around me shake
as I pulled the warden's thighs close against me.
I can see Snakehips dancing...
and I can hear him singing.
Right as the bomb lifted him clean off the stage.
The bomb went down the ventilation shaft, and then...
The safest spot in London gone, just like that.
It was an hour or two ago now, but here we are drinking on.
Another one went off ten minutes later,
while I still had the taste of the warden in my mouth.
And just as I'm arriving to the shelter, there's all this
debris falling, and I don't know where the blood came from -
if I hit my head or if I bit my lip too hard, but all I see is blood.
I could've been there.
I promised myself I would finally see inside of that blessed club.
Take my rightful place with the creme de la creme.
But sometimes a broken promise is what it takes to keep you alive.
Instead, I chose the path of the warden
who tasted of Hammersmith and gin.
I can't have been more than 200 yards away from where the bomb hit,
and I survived.
Monday is the day I'm going to join up for war service.
I'll join up before I'm forced to, in my way, in the Fredrick way,
and I will survive the same way, like I've always done.
Of course, I knew one day I'd be called up.
I dreaded it, I never wanted it.
I'd rather dance away my days than join in the bloodshed, but tonight -
tonight I finally realised that the fight will come to me
if I don't come to it first. And I will fight for this bush village.
For the bottle parties that have come and gone,
for sweet and complicated men that have come and gone.
And, yes, for Snakehips.
And, yes, for the Cafe de Paris.
But also for the theatres.
Most of all, I'm going to fight for the theatres
and all the other places that never closed their doors to men like me.
That's if they even have doors to start with.
That is the only fight I can take up with any conviction.
And I will be back sometime,
and I will sit down in a Soho pub which will be better than here.
And maybe even better than the Shim Sham.
And God help them if they haven't learned to pour decent beer by then.
Would you mind kissing me?
You're not even out, are you?
As the Blitz hits London, Fredrick is grateful that he survived in a very unlikely place of refuge.